Whether or not you need immunizations for travel depends on where you will be traveling. Not every country is going to demand that you already have shots before you travel to that country -- your concern will be more whether you *want* immunizations for travel. Risks are low for most travelers, so speak to your doctor and take their advice on board, too.
If you're particularly interested in Africa, where immunizations are most likely to be required, go straight to Africa Travel Immunizations.
Who Recommends the Immunizations I Want for Travel?
Your doctor's office is a key place to ask what immunizations are recommended for your travel. You can also do the research yourself by looking online. This article is a great place to start!
If you want more specialist advice, you can look for a travel clinic in your area. A travel clinic specializes in travel vaccines and how to stay safe and well overseas, so they may have more knowledge than your doctor. Make an appointment at one if you're planning on visiting a lot of countries and want to ensure you receive the most accurate advice.
How Can I Prove I've Had Vaccinations for Travel (and Who Wants to Know)?
You can get an international health certificate (it's a small yellow booklet) from your doctor, which shows what immunizations you've had, and it's signed by your doctor's office. International health certificates are available through the government, but it's usually easier to just get one from your doctor. You'll want to take great care of this booklet, as you'll need to show it throughout your travels, and if you lose it, you may need to get a second vaccine in order to enter a country. This is especially common in Africa, where you'll need to have had the yellow fever vaccine in order to travel across many of the countries.
Immigration officials in some countries may ask you for immunization certification proving you've had immunizations against cholera and yellow fever, and you may have to prove you had your childhood shots (like chicken pox) to some overseas employers -- if you think you may need it, prepare now by asking your childhood doctor's office for a record. Your elementary school may also have the record. But honestly, I've never heard of anyone needing to prove this, or ever being asked for it. It's highly unlikely.
What you will need is proof you've been vaccinated against yellow fever whenever you leave a country that has the disease. All immigration officials will check you've been vaccinated against it when you're coming from a country with yellow fever, and you won't be let in if you haven't got your yellow book. Keep yours inside your passport to make sure you don't misplace it.
Which Immunizations Do I Need for Travel?
That depends on which countries you'll be visiting and how long you'll be staying there. Check out this list from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) -- simply choose your destination and see which travel vaccinations are recommended for where you're going. If you prepare, you'll know which travel vaccinations you don't *have* to get if you don't want them, as they can be expensive to get in the United States.
Alternatively, when you call you doctor to set up an appointment and when you go to get travel immunizations, have ready a list of countries to which you will be traveling and the doctor's office will make immunization recommendations. In general, if you won't be traveling to Africa or South America, you're unlikely to need many vaccines.
What About Getting Them Overseas?
It's definitely possible and easy to find a travel clinic that can give you them, too. I have plenty of friends who waited until they arrived in Bangkok, for example, to get their vaccines and ended up paying a tiny fraction of the price they would have paid at home.
Just vet the clinic properly before you go. Check reviews online to make sure that they'll use clean needles, etc, and don't be afraid to ask the doctor questions if you're feeling uncomfortable at any time.
Is There a Vaccine for Malaria?
There is no vaccination against malaria -- your best bet is to keep malaria-carrying mosquitoes away from you with a good insect repellent. You may also want to look into malaria pills if you'll be visiting Africa. For the most part, anti-malarial tablets do more harm than good if you take them for months at a time, and outside of Africa, the risk of malaria isn't very high.
Really, you should be more concerned about dengue, especially if you'll be visiting Southeast Asia. As with malaria, covering up at night, using an insect repellent, and avoiding being outside during the mosquito biting hours (dawn and dusk) will help drastically reduce your risk of catching it.
DEET is great mosquito protection and is endorsed by the Center for Disease Control, or CDC, which watches health issues for U.S. citizens. Use insect repellent containing DEET with care -- it's strong stuff, but it also works better than anything else.
If you don't like the stink of DEET, try a natural insect repellent or one containing picaridin -- in 2006, the CDC also gave its seal of approval to picaridin (pick-CARE-a-den) as an effective anti-mosquito agent. And finally, oil of lemon eucalyptus works as well as low concentrations of DEET, according to the CDC.
If you're nervous about it, DEET is the way to go. It may be nasty, but it's not as nasty as cerebral malaria.
This article has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff.